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How To Build A SaaS PPC Campaign That’s Built To Last

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How To Build A SaaS PPC Campaign That's Built To Last

What makes a great SaaS PPC campaign – or at the very least, what will make a SaaS PPC campaign just a little bit better?

In other words, what makes a SaaS PPC campaign built to last?

As I was thinking about this recently, it occurred to me that nearly all the client PPC spend that I was fortunate enough to manage in 2022 was SaaS related, and the answers to this question were right under my nose.

After analyzing my campaigns, there were a small handful of items that really seemed to stand out.

These are the most important principles and strategies that contributed to the SaaS PPC campaigns I manage, which I believe are built to last.

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Conversion Window

I wanted to start by bringing attention to the conversion action conversion window because this can be an overlooked part of the setup for SaaS PPC accounts.

Screenshot from Google Ads, February 2023

(Find the conversion window for your conversion actions by going to Tools & Settings > Measurement > Conversion. Then click on a Conversion Action > Click Edit Settings.)

Many industries can go from ad click to paying customers in a few days, hours, or even minutes – but SaaS products can easily take 30 to 90 days or longer.

If you want to make sure your campaigns are receiving credit for every conversion that they earn, you will want to tweak the conversion window to make sure it is long enough to capture all conversions that result from your search and/or display campaigns, over the entirety of the average customer sales cycle.

While the default click conversion window for all new conversion actions in Google Ads is 30 days, you can manually set the attribution window for anywhere from 1 to 90 days.

You can also set the window for Engaged-view and view-through conversions as well.

Considering the average sales cycle for SaaS companies is 84 days, it’s important that you are not missing the opportunity to register all the conversions that your campaigns deserve.

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Offline Conversion Tracking Setup

When discussing what can be done to improve PPC outcomes, conversion tracking is often at the top of the list.

While this is certainly true when it comes to B2B SaaS, there is one form of conversion tracking that could be the most important of all: offline conversion tracking (OCT).

Unless your SaaS business has a short, relatively simple sales cycle that is completed online from beginning to end, it’s highly likely that you will be unable to fully track a customer journey – from the first ad click to the moment they become a paying customer – without setting up OCT in your ad account.

Uploading data about all the conversions that were achieved offline (like the signing of a contract that turned a sales lead into an actual paying customer) allows Google Ads to complete the circle of the customer journey by appending the offline conversions to all the customer data that was gathered during the online portion of the sales cycle for that specific user.

As the algorithms in your account get more information about these offline conversions, your campaigns will become increasingly optimized, bid more effectively for high-value clicks, and produce more paying customers – and do this all with a lower cost per acquisition than you could have ever achieved without OCT.

There is a lot to know about setting up OCT, but if you would like to know more you can check out How To Track Offline Conversions From Your Google Ads by Tim Jensen.

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Seasonality – Not Just The Weather

As SaaS companies are, by definition, selling software products, you may not consider seasonality a big factor. And when it comes to the physical changing of the weather, that might still hold true.

However, I found that “seasonality” can be a lot more than just changing weather and holiday shopping.

If you research the industry your SaaS product serves and look at past campaign data with a macro lens, you are likely to find numerous times throughout the year that your campaign data will spike or fall on a fairly consistent basis.

Some common “seasonality” that may affect your campaigns in positive or negative ways are:

Fiscal Year Schedules

The vast majority of businesses have the first day of their fiscal year on October 1 or January 1.

Many companies will be looking for new SaaS options around this time as they develop department budgets for the upcoming year.

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Not only will businesses likely have a renewed budget, but your competitors might be spending significantly more or less on their marketing efforts near the end of their own fiscal year.

This can make your marketing costs go up if your competitor is frantically trying to spend their full budget by the end of the year.

Or possibly even provide an opportunity for cheaper conversions if your biggest competitor pulls way back on marketing spend near the end of the year so they don’t overspend on their yearly marketing budget.

Industry Trade Events & Publications

Do you run the marketing for a SaaS product that is popular among a specific industry that has a big, national conference every summer?

Maybe your product is popular among teachers, so you see a spike in searches every August and September as school districts assess their needs.

What about IT products? I personally know that every year, thousands of IT professionals put their searching and planning for new software on hold for the week or two that precede the annual release of the Gartner: Magic Quadrant report, which independently tests and rates IT security SaaS products.

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Two weeks a year, I am struggling just to get clicks. But then, in the span of a one-day search, volume explodes with new prospects searching for the IT products at the top of the ratings.

Annual Product Releases

It has become trendy for the biggest players in each industry to put on huge conferences or product release events that get consumers excited about the releases planned for that year.

If your SaaS product serves one of these markets, you will likely see a spike in searches and clicks around these events, because people are excited and motivated by what they are seeing.

Or, you may see search volume fall, because all your potential customers aren’t concerned with anything except for the big event.

Either way, if you are in the B2B SaaS marketing game, you will likely find similar periods, every year, that end up being so predictable, they might as well be actual, “seasonal” events.

If you plan ahead for whatever market conditions are likely during these “seasons,” you will have a much easier time hitting your client’s goals on time and on budget.

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Go Negative

Have you ever heard of the power of positive thinking?

Well, sometimes there is serious power in going negative!

When it comes to PPC for SaaS, going negative can save you buckets of money on irrelevant clicks, poor-quality leads, and a lot of downright fraud.

Not only that, but if your account is full of bad clicks and poor-quality “conversions,” then the algorithms that rule your campaigns will be fed with bad data.

Worst of all, the algorithms will then compound the problem by going out and finding you more of those horrible clicks – so it’s important to eliminate as much bad spend as possible.

Here are some of the best ways to eliminate destructive spend in your SaaS campaigns:

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Basic Search Campaign Maintenance

I know it’s boring, but you need to perform regular keyword maintenance on search campaigns and constantly add new negative keywords for terms that are not converting or are unrelated to your product.

Here’s a quick and easy process to find negative keyword candidates:

  • Choose a 7- to 30-day timeframe, and click Campaign > Keywords > Search Keywords.
  • Sort by Cost, highest to lowest.
  • Click to select the first one to five keywords, then in the blue bar at the top of the list click “Search terms.”
  • This will take you to the Search Terms section of the campaign, but it will automatically be filtered to only show the search terms that came from the search keywords you previously selected.
How To Build A SaaS PPC Campaign That’s Built To LastScreenshot from Google Ads, February 2023

Display Targeting & Placements Exclusions

This is one of the biggest culprits when it comes to bad spend and algorithm corruption.

The more money you spend on Display campaigns, the more necessary it is to consistently review the Placements Report.

When you see a placement that looks like a low-quality or spam site, add it as a Placement Exclusion to your Display campaigns.

How To Build A SaaS PPC Campaign That’s Built To LastScreenshot from Google Ads, February 2023

Question-Related Search Terms

Questions can be a big money drain when it comes to SaaS products.

Unless you have a robust website that is designed with plenty of great information around commonly asked questions related to your product, it will save a lot of money if you add interrogatives – or more commonly called “question words” – to your keyword negatives.

Doing this will keep you from paying expensive search campaign prices in order to answer a user’s questions.

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The vast majority of the time, when a user searches with a question word, they are very high in the “funnel” and very unlikely to convert – so if your funds are limited, consider eliminating questions from the keywords that you target.

Here is my favorite list of interrogatives to add as negative keywords to campaigns:

  • if.
  • how.
  • what.
  • when.
  • does.
  • can.
  • why.
  • should.
  • do.
  • which.
  • will.
  • are.
  • did.
  • is.
  • has.

Competitor Campaigns

Bidding on the product names or company names of your direct competitors is not a practice exclusive to the SaaS industry.

However, I have never seen the type of direct competitor warfare, level of spending, time allocation, and grandstanding that you get with SaaS companies and their competitors.

Maybe it’s because there are often dozens of SaaS companies doing the same thing, but there is only room for a few big players.

Maybe it’s because a lot of SaaS companies are in Silicon Valley and there are big egos, with lots of money involved.

Whatever the reason, competitor campaigns are a different beast when it comes to SaaS, and they need to be approached differently than you may approach them in any other industry.

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Here are the main takeaways I have found when it comes to targeting SaaS competitors with PPC.

Decide

A mentor of mine once said, “Do or do not.  There is no try.” That mentor was Yoda in “Star Wars: The Empire Strikes Back.” And Yoda could not be more right.

The biggest decision you have to make when it comes to competitor campaigns is whether or not you will even decide to launch one.

You certainly don’t have to, and there are some good reasons to avoid it altogether – like, among other things, putting that money towards other campaigns that will be more efficient and profitable overall.

However, if you decide to create a competitor campaign, where you directly bid on branded, competitor keywords, you need to really understand why you are doing it and what benefit it will give you, and then really commit to providing the resources necessary to achieve the goals you choose.

Break Competitors Into Tiers

In the SaaS industry, going after every competitor you have is a sure way to fail.

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It’s usually best to break out one to two competitors that you consider your main competition into a Tier 1 competitor campaign.

Create another campaign for Tier 2 competitors and fill it with three to six other competitors that, while not as big a threat as Tier 1, are still formidable.

Doing this will allow you to adjust how much budget you allot between competitors, and it will allow you more control over the targeting, ad copy, bid strategy, etc., for your two distinct tiers of competitors.

Plan Accordingly

If you decide to join the competitor battle, a little planning can go a long way.

Obviously, you need to first decide how much of your budget you are going to allot to this endeavor.

I generally recommend allotting enough budget to obtain 10-25% of Search Impression Share, or up to 20% of your overall PPC budget – whichever is smaller.

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Doing this will give you enough funds to be seen and show your competitors that you are in the fight, but not take too much away from more profitable campaigns.

You will need to plan for a higher cost per action (CPA), lower conversion rate (CVR), and lower keyword quality scores than other campaigns, so adjust your conversion and ROI expectations accordingly.

Be Clever With Ad Copy

While you actually can use competitor names in your search campaign ad copy, those ads will likely end up not being shown as much compared with ads that do not use competitor names.

So, it’s best if you can find a way to refer to your competitor without actually using their company or product name.

Challenge yourself to find a way to allude to your competitor or use well-known competitor brand language instead of directly stating their name.

Is Microsoft one of your main competitors? You can write an ad description line that says, “There’s nothing micro or soft about our solution to cloud database management.”

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Not only will this stand out to your potential customers, but it will also drive your competitors crazy!

Always Run A Brand Campaign

While it’s definitely a topic that’s up for debate, I believe you should probably have a paid campaign, of some sort, that targets your own brand terms.

However, if you are going to be targeting your competitors’ brand terms with a campaign, it’s essential that you have a robust brand campaign for your own brand terms.

There are two main reasons for this.

First, you don’t want to leave your own brand vulnerable if you are seen targeting your biggest competitors.

They can, and likely will, create a competitor campaign of their own that targets your brand terms, and you don’t want to make it easy or cheap for them to run that campaign.

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Second, a brand campaign is the easiest type of campaign to earn high-quality scores and get the cheapest possible clicks.

In turn, this makes it very difficult for your competitors to get more than a three or four quality score for your brand terms, thus making the clicks they receive quite expensive.

Conclusion

When it comes to PPC, especially PPC for SaaS, there is likely never a perfect solution or perfect decision when you are building and optimizing campaigns.

However, I would encourage you to test at least a few of the ideas mentioned above and find out for yourself if they can help to make your PPC SaaS account built to last.

More Resources:


Featured Image: TierneyMJ/Shutterstock

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A Guide to Star Ratings on Google and How They Work

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A Guide to Star Ratings on Google and How They Work

The elusive five-star review used to be something you could only flaunt in a rotating reviews section on your website.

But today, Google has pulled these stars out of the shadows and features them front and center across branded SERPs and beyond.

Star ratings can help businesses earn trust from potential customers, improve local search rankings, and boost conversions.

This is your guide to how they work.

Stars And SERPs: What Is The Google Star Rating?

A Google star rating is a consumer-powered grading system that lets other consumers know how good a business is based on a score of one to five stars.

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These star ratings can appear across maps and different Google search results properties like standard blue link search listings, ads, rich results like recipe cards, local pack results, third-party review sites, and on-app store results.

How Does The Google Star Rating Work?

When a person searches Google, they will see star ratings in the results. Google uses an algorithm and an average to determine how many stars are displayed on different review properties.

Google explains that the star score system operates based on an average of all review ratings for that business that have been published on Google.

It’s important to note that this average is not calculated in real-time and can take up to two weeks to update after a new review is created.

When users leave a review, they are asked to rate a business based on specific aspects of their customer experience, as well as the type of business being reviewed and the services they’ve included.

For example, “plumbers may get “Install faucet” or “Repair toilet” as services to add,” and Google also allows businesses to add custom services that aren’t listed.

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When customers are prompted to give feedback, they can give positive or critical feedback, or they can choose not to select a specific aspect to review, in which case this feedback aspect is considered unavailable.

This combination of feedback is what Google uses to determine a business’s average score by “dividing the number of positive ratings by the total number of ratings (except the ones where the aspect was not rated).”

Google star ratings do have some exceptions in how they function.

For example, the UK and EU have certain restrictions that don’t apply to other regions, following recent scrutiny by the EU Consumer Protection Cooperation and the UK Competitions and Market Authority about fake reviews being generated.

Additionally, the type of rating search property will determine the specifics of how it operates and how to gather and manage reviews there.

Keep reading to get an in-depth explanation of each type of Google star rating available on the search engine results pages (SERPs).

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How To Get Google Star Ratings On Different Search Properties

As mentioned above, there are different types of Google star ratings available across search results, including the standard blue-link listings, ads, local pack results, rich snippets, third-party reviews, and app store results.

Here’s what the different types of star-rating results look like in Google and how they work on each listing type.

Standard “Blue Link” Listings And Google Stars

In 2021, Google started testing star ratings in organic search and has since kept this SERP feature intact.

Websites can stand out from their competitors by getting stars to show up around their organic search results listing pages.

Screenshot from SERPs, Google, February 2024Text result showing google star ratings in the SERPs

How To Get Google Stars On Organic SERPs

If you want stars to show up on your organic search results, add schema markup to your website.

Learn how to do that in the video below:

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As the video points out, you need actual reviews to get your structured data markup to show.

Then, you can work with your development team to input the code on your site that indicates your average rating, highest, lowest, and total rating count.

structured markup example for google star ratings and reviewsScreenshot JSON-LD script on Google Developers, August 2021structured markup example for google star ratings and reviews

Once you add the rich snippet to your site, there is no clear timeline for when they will start appearing in the SERPs – that’s up to Google.

In fact, Google specifically mentions that reviews in properties like search can take longer to appear, and often, this delay is caused by business profiles being merged.

When you’re done, you can check your work with Google’s Structured Data Testing Tool.

Adding schema is strongly encouraged. But even without it, if you own a retail store with ratings, Google may still show your star ratings in the search engine results.

They do this to ensure searchers are getting access to a variety of results. Google says:

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“content on your website that’s been crawled and is related to retail may also be shown in product listings and annotations for free across Google.”

If you want star ratings to show up on Shopping Ads, you’ll have to pay for that.

Paid Ads And Google Stars

When Google Stars appear in paid search ads, they’re known as seller ratings, “an automated extension type that showcases advertisers with high ratings.”

These can appear in text ads, shopping ads, and free listings. Both the star rating and the total number of votes or reviews are displayed.

In addition to Google star ratings, shopping ads may include additional production information such as shipping details, color, material, and more, as shown below.

Google shopping ads showing star ratingsScreenshot from SERPs ads, Google, February 2024Google shopping ads showing star ratings

Paid text ads were previously labeled as “ads” and recently have been upgraded to a “sponsored” label, as shown below.

paid ad showing google star ratingsScreenshot from SERPs ads, Google, February 2024paid ad showing google star ratings

How To Get Google Stars On Paid Ads

To participate in free listings, sellers have to do three things:

  • Follow all the required policies around personally identifiable information, spam, malware, legal requirements, return policies, and more.
  • Submit a feed through the Google Merchant Center or have structured data markup on their website (as described in the previous section).
  • Add their shipping settings.

Again, some ecommerce sellers who do not have schema markup may still have their content show up in the SERPs.

For text ads and shopping ads to show star ratings, sellers are typically required to have at least 100 reviews in the last 12 months.

Paid advertisers must also meet a minimum number of stars for seller ratings to appear on their text ads. This helps higher-quality advertisers stand out from the competition.

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For example, text ads have to have a minimum rating of 3.5 for the Google star ratings to show.

Google treats reviews on a per-country basis, so the minimum review threshold of 100 also applies only to 1 region at a time.

For star ratings to appear on a Canadian ecommerce company’s ads, for example, they would have to have obtained a minimum of 100 reviews from within Canada in the last year.

Google considers reviews from its own Google Customer Reviews and also from approved third-party partner review sites from its list of 29 supported review partners, which makes it easier for sellers to meet the minimum review threshold each year.

Google also requests:

  • The domain that has ratings must be the same as the one that’s visible in the ad.
  • Google or its partners must conduct a research evaluation of your site.
  • The reviews included must be about the product or service being sold.

Local Pack Results And Google Stars

Local businesses have a handful of options for their business to appear on Google via Places, local map results, and a Google Business Profile page – all of which can show star ratings.

Consumers even have the option to sort local pack results by their rating, as shown in the image example below.

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Google star ratings on search resultsScreenshot from SERPs local pack, Google, February 2024Google star ratings on search results

How To Get Google Stars On Local Search Results

To appear in local search results, a Google Business Profile is required.

Customers may leave reviews directly on local business properties without being asked, but Google also encourages business owners to solicit reviews from their customers and shares best practices, including:

  • Asking your customers to leave you a review and make it easy for them to do so by providing a link to your review pages.
  • Making review prompts desktop and mobile-friendly.
  • Replying to customer reviews (ensure you’re a verified provider on Google first).
  • Be sure you do not offer incentives for reviews.

Customers can also leave star ratings on other local review sites, as Google can pull from both to display on local business search properties. It can take up to two weeks to get new local reviews to show in your overall score.

Once customers are actively leaving reviews, Google Business Profile owners have a number of options to help them manage these:

options to manage review on google business profileScreenshot from Google Business Profile Help, Google, February 2024options to manage review on google business profile

Rich Results, Like Recipes, And Google Stars

Everybody’s gotta eat, and we celebrate food in many ways — one of which is recipe blogs.

While restaurants rely more on local reviews, organic search results, and even paid ads, food bloggers seek to have their recipes rated.

Similar to other types of reviews, recipe cards in search results show the average review rating and the total number of reviews.

recipe search results on desktopScreenshot from search for [best vegan winter recipes], Google, February 2024recipe search results on desktop

The outcome has become a point of contention among the food blogging community, since only three recipes per search can be seen on Google desktop results (like shown in the image above), and four on a mobile browser.

These coveted spots will attract clicks, leaving anyone who hasn’t mastered online customer reviews in the dust. That means that the quality of the recipe isn’t necessarily driving these results.

Google gives users the option to click “Show more” to see two additional rows of results:

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expanded desktop recipe search resultsScreenshot from SERPs, Google, February 2024expanded desktop recipe search results

Searchers can continue to click the “Show more” button to see additional recipe results.

Anyone using Google Home can search for a recipe and get results through their phone:

Google assistant recipesScreenshot from Elfsight, February 2024Google assistant recipes

Similarly, recipe search results can be sent from the device to the Google Home assistant. Both methods will enable easy and interactive step-by-step recipe instructions using commands like “start recipe,” “next step,” or even “how much olive oil?”

How To Get Google Stars On Recipe Results

Similar to the steps to have stars appear on organic blue-link listings, food bloggers and recipe websites need to add schema to their websites in order for star ratings to show.

However, it’s not as straightforward as listing the average and the total number of ratings. Developers should follow Google’s instructions for recipe markup.

There is both required and recommended markup:

Required Markup For Recipes

  • Name of the recipe.
  • Image of the recipe in a BMP, GIF, JPEG, PNG, WebP, or SVG format.

Recommended Markup For Recipes

  • Aggregate rating.
  • Author.
  • Cook time, preparation time, and total duration.
  • Date published.
  • Description.
  • Keywords.
  • Nutrition information.
  • Prep time.
  • Recipe category by meal type, like “dinner.”
  • Region associated with the recipe.
  • Ingredients.
  • Instructions.
  • Yield or total serving.
  • Total time.
  • Video (and other related markup, if there is a video in the recipe).

To have recipes included in Google Assistant Guided Recipes, the following markup must be included:

  • recipeIngredient
  • recipeInstructions
  • To have the video property, add the contentUrl.

For example, here’s what the structured markup would look like for the recipeIngredient property:

example of structured markup for recipe steps in Google AssistantScreenshot from Google Developer, February 2024example of structured markup for recipe steps in Google Assistant

Third-Party Review Sites And Google Stars

Many software companies rely on third-party review sites to help inform their customer’s purchasing decisions.

Third-party review sites include any website a brand doesn’t own where a customer can submit a review, such as Yelp, G2, and many more.

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Many of these sites, like Featured Customers shown below, can display star ratings within Google search results.

Example of star ratings showing in SERPs from third-party review sitesScreenshot from SERPs listing of a review site, Google, February 2024Example of star ratings showing in SERPs from third-party review sites

Rich snippets from third-party reviews, such as stars, summary info, or ratings, can also appear on a Google Business Profile or map view from approved sites.

For local businesses, Google star ratings appear in different locations than the third-party reviews on a desktop:

third party reviews and google stars on desktop resultsScreenshot from SERPs listing of a review site, Google, February 2024third party reviews and google stars on desktop results

On mobile, ratings are displayed on a company’s Google Business Profile. Users need to click on Reviews or scroll down to see the third-party reviews:

third party reviews in local mobile resultsScreenshot from SERPs listing of a review site, Google, February 2024third party reviews in local mobile results

On a map, the results from third parties may be more prominent, like the Tripadvisor review that shows up for a map search of The Hilton in Vancouver (although it does not display a star rating even though Tripadvisor does provide star ratings):

third party reviews in map resultsScreenshot from SERPs listing of a review site, Google, February 2024third party reviews in map results

How To Get Google Stars On Third-Party Review Sites

The best way to get a review on a third-party review site depends on which site is best for the brand or the business.

For example, if you have active customers on Yelp or Tripadvisor, you may choose to engage with customers there.

third-party reviews in search resultsScreenshot from SERPs listing of a review site, Google, February 2024third-party reviews in search results

Similarly, if a software review site like Trustpilot shows up for your branded search, you could do an email campaign with your customer list asking them to leave you a review there.

Here are a few of the third-party review websites that Google recognizes:

  • Trustpilot.
  • Reevoo.
  • Bizrate – through Shopzilla.

When it comes to third-party reviews, Google reminds businesses that there is no way to opt out of third-party reviews, and they need to take up any issues with third-party site owners.

App Store Results And Google Stars

When businesses have an application as their core product, they typically rely on App Store and Google Play Store downloads.

Right from the SERPs, searchers can see an app’s star ratings, as well as the total votes and other important information, like whether the app is free or not.

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App store reviews in search resultsScreenshot from SERP play store results, Google, February 2024App store reviews in search results

How To Get Google Stars On App Store Results

Businesses can list their iOS apps in the App Store or on the Google Play store, prompt customers to leave reviews there, and also respond to them.

Does The Google Star Rating Influence SEO Rankings?

John Mueller confirmed that Google does not factor star ratings or customer reviews into web search rankings. However, Google is clear that star ratings influence local search results and rankings:

“Google review count and review score factor into local search ranking. More reviews and positive ratings can improve your business’ local ranking.”

Even though they are not a ranking factor for non-local organic search, star ratings can serve as an important conversion element, helping you display social proof, build credibility, and increase your click-through rate from search engines (which may indirectly impact your search rankings).

For local businesses, both Google stars and third-party ratings appear in desktop and mobile searches, as seen above.

These ratings not only help local businesses rank above their competitors for key phrases, but they will also help convince more customers to click, which is every company’s search game.

How Do I Improve My Star Rating?

Businesses that want to improve their Google star rating should start by claiming their Google Business Profile and making sure all the information is complete and up to date.

If a company has already taken these steps and wants to offset a poor rating, they are going to need more reviews to offset the average.

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Companies can get more Google reviews by making it easy for customers to leave one. The first step for a company is to get the link to leave a review inside their Google Business Profile:

Ask customers for reviews linkScreenshot from Wordstream, February 2024Ask customers for reviews link

From there, companies can send this link out to customers directly (there are four options displayed right from the link as seen above), include it on social media, and even dedicate sections of their website to gathering more reviews and/or displaying reviews from other users.

It isn’t clear whether or not responding to reviews will help improve a local business’s ranking; however, it’s still a good idea for companies to respond to reviews on their Google Business Profile in order to improve their ratings overall.

That’s because responding to reviews can entice other customers to leave a review since they know they will get a response and because the owner is actually seeing the feedback.

For service businesses, Google provides the option for customers to rate aspects of the experience.

This is helpful since giving reviewers this option allows anyone who had a negative experience to rate just one aspect negatively rather than giving a one-star review overall.

Does Having A Star Rating On Google Matter? Yes! So Shoot For The Stars

Stars indicate quality to consumers, so they almost always improve click-through rates wherever they are present.

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Consumers tend to trust and buy from brands with higher star ratings in local listings, paid ads, or even app downloads.

Many, many, many studies have demonstrated this phenomenon time and again. So, don’t hold back when it comes to reviews.

Do an audit of where your brand shows up in SERPs and get stars next to as many placements as possible.

The most important part of star ratings across Google, however, will always be the service and experiences companies provide that fuel good reviews from happy customers.

More resources:


Feature Image: BestForBest/Shutterstock
All screenshots taken by author

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Top Priorities, Challenges, And Opportunities

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Top Priorities, Challenges, And Opportunities

The world of search has seen massive change recently. Whether you’re still in the planning stages for this year or underway with your 2024 strategy, you need to know the new SEO trends to stay ahead of seismic search industry shifts.

It’s time to chart a course for SEO success in this changing landscape.

Watch this on-demand webinar as we explore exclusive survey data from today’s top SEO professionals and digital marketers to inform your strategy this year. You’ll also learn how to navigate SEO in the era of AI, and how to gain an advantage with these new tools.

You’ll hear:

  • The top SEO priorities and challenges for 2024.
  • The role of AI in SEO – how to get ahead of the anticipated disruption of SGE and AI overall, plus SGE-specific SEO priorities.
  • Winning SEO resourcing strategies and reporting insights to fuel success.

With Shannon Vize and Ryan Maloney, we’ll take a deep dive into the top trends, priorities, and challenges shaping the future of SEO.

Discover timely insights and unlock new SEO growth potential in 2024.

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View the slides below or check out the full webinar for all the details.

Join Us For Our Next Webinar!

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E-E-A-T’s Google Ranking Influence Decoded

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E-E-A-T's Google Ranking Influence Decoded

The idea that something is not a ranking factor that nevertheless plays a role in ranking websites seems to be logically irreconcilable. Despite seeming like a paradox that cancels itself out, SearchLiaison recently tweeted some comments that go a long way to understanding how to think about E-E-A-T and apply it to SEO.

What A Googler Said About E-E-A-T

Marie Haynes published a video excerpt on YouTube from an event at which a Googler spoke, essentially doubling down on the importance of E-A-T.

This is what he said:

“You know this hasn’t always been there in Google and it’s something that we developed about ten to twelve or thirteen years ago. And it really is there to make sure that along the lines of what we talked about earlier is that it really is there to ensure that the content that people consume is going to be… it’s not going to be harmful and it’s going to be useful to the user. These are principles that we live by every single day.

And E-A-T, that template of how we rate an individual site based off of Expertise, Authoritativeness and Trustworthiness, we do it to every single query and every single result. So it’s actually very pervasive throughout everything that we do .

I will say that the YMYL queries, the Your Money or Your Life Queries, such as you know when I’m looking for a mortgage or when I’m looking for the local ER,  those we have a particular eye on and we pay a bit more attention to those queries because clearly they’re some of the most important decisions that people can make.

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So I would say that E-A-T has a bit more of an impact there but again, I will say that E-A-T applies to everything, every single query that we actually look at.”

How can something be a part of every single search query and not be a ranking factor, right?

Background, Experience & Expertise In Google Circa 2012

Something to consider is that in 2012 Google’s senior engineer at the time, Matt Cutts, said that experience and expertise brings a measure of quality to content and makes it worthy of ranking.

Matt Cutts’ remarks on experience and expertise were made in an interview with Eric Enge.

Discussing whether the website of a hypothetical person named “Jane” deserves to rank with articles that are original variations of what’s already in the SERPs.

Matt Cutts observed:

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“While they’re not duplicates they bring nothing new to the table.

Google would seek to detect that there is no real differentiation between these results and show only one of them so we could offer users different types of sites in the other search results.

They need to ask themselves what really is their value add? …they need to figure out what… makes them special.

…if Jane is just churning out 500 words about a topic where she doesn’t have any background, experience or expertise, a searcher might not be as interested in her opinion.”

Matt then cites the example of Pulitzer Prize-Winning movie reviewer Roger Ebert as a person with the background, experience and expertise that makes his opinion valuable to readers and the content worthy of ranking.

Matt didn’t say that a webpage author’s background, experience and expertise were ranking factors. But he did say that these are the kinds of things that can differentiate one webpage from another and align it to what Google wants to rank.

He specifically said that Google’s algorithm detects if there is something different about it that makes it stand out. That was in 2012 but not much has changed because Google’s John Mueller says the same thing.

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For example, in 2020 John Mueller said that differentiation and being compelling is important for getting Google to notice and rank a webpage.

“So with that in mind, if you’re focused on kind of this small amount of content that is the same as everyone else then I would try to find ways to significantly differentiate yourselves to really make it clear that what you have on your website is significantly different than all of those other millions of ringtone websites that have kind of the same content.

…And that’s the same recommendation I would have for any kind of website that offers essentially the same thing as lots of other web sites do.

You really need to make sure that what you’re providing is unique and compelling and high quality so that our systems and users in general will say, I want to go to this particular website because they offer me something that is unique on the web and I don’t just want to go to any random other website.”

In 2021, in regard to getting Google to index a webpage, Mueller also said:

“Is it something the web has been waiting for? Or is it just another red widget?”

This thing about being compelling and different than other sites, it’s something that’s been a part of Google’s algorithm awhile, just like the Googler in the video said, just like Matt Cutts said and exactly like what Mueller has said as well.

Are they talking about signals?

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E-EA-T Algorithm Signals

We know there’s something in the algorithm that relates to someone’s expertise and background that Google’s looking for. The table is set and we can dig into the next step of what it all means.

A while back back I remember reading something that Marie Haynes said about E-A-T, she called it a framework. And I thought, now that’s an interesting thing she just did, she’s conceptualizing E-A-T.

When SEOs discussed E-A-T it was always in the context of what to do in order to demonstrate E-A-T. So they looked at the Quality Raters Guide for guidance, which kind of makes sense since it’s a guide, right?

But what I’m proposing is that the answer isn’t really in the guidelines or anything that the quality raters are looking for.

The best way to explain it is to ask you to think about the biggest part of Google’s algorithm, relevance.

What’s relevance? Is it something you have to do? It used to be about keywords and that’s easy for SEOs to understand. But it’s not about keywords anymore because Google’s algorithm has natural language understanding (NLU). NLU is what enables machines to understand language in the way that it’s actually spoken (natural language).

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So, relevance is just something that’s related or connected to something else. So, if I ask, how do I satiate my thirst? The answer can be water, because water quenches the thirst.

How is a site relevant to the search query: “how do I satiate my thirst?”

An SEO would answer the problem of relevance by saying that the webpage has to have the keywords that match the search query, which would be the words “satiate” and “thirst.”

The next step the SEO would take is to extract the related entities for “satiate” and “thirst” because every SEO “knows” they need to do entity research to understand how to make a webpage that answers the search query, “How do I satiate my thirst?”

Hypothetical Related entities:

  • Thirst: Water, dehydration, drink,
  • Satiate: Food, satisfaction, quench, fulfillment, appease

Now that the SEO has their entities and their keywords they put it all together and write a 600 word essay that uses all their keywords and entities so that their webpage is relevant for the search query, “How do I satiate my thirst?”

I think we can stop now and see how silly that is, right? If someone asked you, “How do I satiate my thirst?” You’d answer, “With water” or “a cold refreshing beer” because that’s what it means to be relevant.

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Relevance is just a concept. It doesn’t have anything to do with entities or keywords in today’s search algorithms because the machine is understanding search queries as natural language, even more so with AI search engines.

Similarly, E-E-A-T is also just a concept. It doesn’t have anything to do with author bios, LinkedIn profiles, it doesn’t have anything at all to do with making your content say that you handled the product that’s being reviewed.

Here’s what SearchLiaison recently said about an E-E-A-T, SEO and Ranking:

“….just making a claim and talking about a ‘rigorous testing process’ and following an ‘E-E-A-T checklist’ doesn’t guarantee a top ranking or somehow automatically cause a page to do better.”

Here’s the part where SearchLiaison ties a bow around the gift of E-E-A-T knowledge:

“We talk about E-E-A-T because it’s a concept that aligns with how we try to rank good content.”

E-E-A-T Can’t Be Itemized On A Checklist

Remember how we established that relevance is a concept and not a bunch of keywords and entities? Relevance is just answering the question.

E-E-A-T is the same thing. It’s not something that you do. It’s closer to something that you are.

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SearchLiaison elaborated:

“…our automated systems don’t look at a page and see a claim like “I tested this!” and think it’s better just because of that. Rather, the things we talk about with E-E-A-T are related to what people find useful in content. Doing things generally for people is what our automated systems seek to reward, using different signals.”

A Better Understanding Of E-E-A-T

I think it’s clear now how E-E-A-T isn’t something that’s added to a webpage or is something that is demonstrated on the webpage. It’s a concept, just like relevance.

A good way to think o fit is if someone asks you a question about your family and you answer it. Most people are pretty expert and experienced enough to answer that question. That’s what E-E-A-T is and how it should be treated when publishing content, regardless if it’s YMYL content or a product review, the expertise is just like answering a question about your family, it’s just a concept.

Featured Image by Shutterstock/Roman Samborskyi

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